Very Sad

Went looking for the the Nobilis “Lexicon” projects today.
They seem to have vanished.

Nobilis pre-post-mortem

Let’s say you get into a book club. It’s a pretty interesting set up, where you get a tremendous number of new books (40 or so), for about forty bucks.
The only catch is you have to indicate *at the signup stage* which books you’re going to want to read during the course of the run. It doesn’t have to be books that are published at the time (you’ll be getting books regularly and about bi-weekly for… let’s say a year and a half), but of course the list is all going to be based on your preferences and interests that you have at that moment in time.
About halfway in, maybe less, you realize your preferences have changed. The first half-dozen books were great and exactly what you were hoping for, and you’ve found some wonderful and interesting bits here and there since then, but there’s also some things you’re getting that really don’t work for you at all, plus you’ve been reading some other stuff on the side and found out about a newer style of book club where you pay a bit more but get smaller batches of books, which lets you switch your preferences much more easily.
Basically, at this point, despite some great experiences, you’re ready for the last of the books to show up so you can read it and move on. You just want to get it over with, and that’s no way to read a book.
That’s pretty much where I am with the Nobilis game. I love the players, love the characters, and even like the storyline (such as it is), but I’ve taken the whole thing someplace that I don’t really find that engaging and basically I simply want to wrap things up as well as I can and move on; this one ran too long and tried to do too much: in retrospect I should have stopped after session six — that’s really where it stopped being a story and started being meeting minutes, a bunch of things I’m just not that proud of. Regardless, I’ve come to believe that shorter campaign lengths result in a much leaner and cleaner story arc overall and help keep the excitement level up at a higher level.
So… I love the game, and I think I need to finish it up cleanly and more importantly quickly, because it deserves the kind of concise attack that it came in with. Time to move on.

‘Scuse me while I gush

In the history of Nobilis, the first 20th century was different.
So were the 400 wondrous years after that, but that is all gone now.
One day, it was the year 2400 and space-ships plied the Aetheric Currents between earth and the colony worlds. Then (about one hundred years ago) a rogue imperator conspired, an immortal Queen/Empress died, and human history/memory was reset back en masse.
The next day it was 1900 again, and the world, the history books and mortal memory had been changed so that it seemed normal for it to be 1900.
The crew at OceanWiki is putting together a Lexicon to tell us about everything we lost from those amazing five-hundred years.
It’s a shorter project than the former Lexicon, but it’s tighter, faster, and dare-I-say already better than the first effort… and we’re only on the A-C entries.
Amazing, terrific stuff: all the ‘lost futures’ of all your favorite sci-fi, brought into one place — Jules Verne and Space 1889 and Castle Falkenstein and Robert Heinlein and Buckaroo Banzai and Doc Savage and John Carter.
From “Ben Faulk, the First One to do Something Else” to the Pan African Teleostean Hegemony… this is really good stuff.
Go. Read.

The Plot Point

A few weeks ago, Dave commented that we’ve been at this Nobilis thing for ‘about a year’.
I believe my immediate reaction to this was something like “you’re completely crackers”, but it turns out he’s right: the first Nobilis session was… well, I posted about it around the last week of April of 2003, so I suppose that’s pretty close to the first little half-session we did.
Looking back, I’m both pleased and annoyed, but generally far more of the former than the latter.

Continue reading “The Plot Point”

Cool, baby. Cool.

So for the last couple weeks I’ve been contributing the insanity of the Lexicon Of The Second Age, in which people are sequentially writing up entries on the Second Age of Creation for the Nobilis setting, following certain guidelines.
Once a few standard practices and guildelines worked themselves into place, things have gone swimmingly, and I honestly find myself looking forward to the next entry from the others and the next entry to write — there’s tons of stuff that’s come out of the project that I’m already planning to use in my own campaign.
Today’s “O” contribution was a little tongue-in-cheek (after several entries worth of Serious Topics) — a time-jaunting band of heroes who spent the Second Age saving the world, doing good, and rocking out (a Noble tribute to the Hong Kong Cavaliers).
Good times.

Making Magic… magic.

A long email exchange on magic in rpgs — not a lot that resonated with me, but I did want to refer back to this passage, which touches on a possible problem I’m having in Nobilis (and possibly other stories).
Emphasis mine:

… [I am] against taking magic for granted, relying on the system, instead of trying to elicit that which the system is designed to facilitate. Relying on the system has the paradoxical effect of making the magic both more and less real: on the one hand, it removes everything from the realm of concrete action and physical description, distancing everyone from what?s really going on; on the other hand, by invoking rules, one lends an air of authority if not verisimilitude to the proceedings. ?I?m using Waters of Vision to try and see what?s going on? implies that the magic is real*; ?I?m peering into the water in the bowl on my dresser to see what I can see in the ripples? leaves crucial room for doubt and ambiguity**.
(The paradoxical epistemology of rpgs: precisely because they are so subjective?based almost wholly on the subjective cause-and-effect dialogue between players and referee?they end up being much more objective than the real world.)

* — “Real”, read “measurable and solid”, which is so antithetical to the idea of what magic is in most settings that it makes Magic into Not-Magic (Technology). Magic in DnD (and in virtually every other RPG out there), for instance, is actually Technology — very reliable technology, come to that.
** — But lends a solidity to the act itself. Compare “I do a Divination of his location.” to the actual concrete actions described in the example above: which one immerses you in the world of the character more? Which allows (or forces) a certain emotional separation from the scene?
This all goes back to a problem I choose to perceive in the Nobilis games I’m running, in that most of the sessions fail to have anything resembling a mythic tone to them. I know that most of this lies with me — to have a mythic feel, a lot has to come from me, and frankly I think most people of my generation are going to have problem with mythic thinking — it’s not what we were raised on, after all — sesame street is a far cry from being raised on oral tradition stories and fairy tales at bedtime. My myths are those of Tolkien — a magical world with very very VERY little that is overtly magic in it: a world with histories but not myths… myth doesn?t enter into it, and the closest thing to fairy tales are Bilbo’s encounter with the Trolls and the regrettable Tom Bombadil (who really should have been in a short book of his own… preferably in a different world entirely).
And to top it off, I taught myself systems at a young age whereby everything that happens in Tolkien can be quantified (RPGs) — just to milk that last bit of wonder myth out of it.
(Note to self: buy many books of fairy tales — read them to children as they grow up.)
So, back on track, I don’t necessarily know the imagery of myths, and thus my Nobilis games tend to feel more like (best case) an Unknown Armies game where everyone’s playing an Avatar or (worst case) a Supers game.
Supers… the myths of our time, and more’s the pity; though you can have mythic supers tales (cf. Hitherby Dragons), that’s the exception, not the rule.
So, Question the First: how to think mythically? How to encourage the players to think/act mythically?
The other thing that is leeching the magical out of the Nobilis game is that I’m very focused on the rules right now, because I’m trying to teach them to my players — so that even when they simply describe “this is my concrete and emotionally immersive action”, I break it down from the subjective-but-immersive to the objective-but-non-immersive — I’m very much into showing everyone what gears are turning behind the curtain right now, because I want them to see how the machine works.
My motives are good: I want people to know the rules well enough to be able to ignore them, but I’m beginning to think that that’s not going to happen, at least not quickly.
So I think “We’ll, we’ll let everyone be subjective-concrete-immersive and I’ll be the only one making sure the game system is being observed and everyone can just trust me that it’s fair.”
Which is fine, if everyone trusts me, and maybe they do. I’m nervous about that because I-the-player got really burned on that about a year or two ago and I’m still compensating for that in most of my games, trying to make sure that everyone knows I’m working with a fair and balanced rules set even if they never asked.
So, Question the Second: How to move from my current mode of “objective-non-immersive” to “subjective-immersive” to let people be engaged in the action, not the rules. Ideally, the goal should be that the players are always utterly confident that they did what they say they did, but unsure as to whether the ‘magic’ will behave as expected. This is easier, provided trust-in-the-GM by both the players and the GM.
What frustrates me about this is that I was DOING this (creating more mythic imagery and veiling the hard rules) at the beginning of the game before I really learned the rules, and I’m doing it less now because I’m thinking of them too much.

Order of events

Interesting thoughts on why to decide your Estate last when creating a character in Nobilis, stored here for my convenience:

The crux of Tony’s process is that the Estate is the LAST thing you choose when designing your character.
What it does (I feel) is discourage people from playing Estates and Affiliations instead of characters.
In my attempts to play Nobilis I have seen characters who seem designed to govern a pre-selected Estate. That’s okay, but I maintain that it’s only okay with careful consideration and balance. Without a critical eye, choosing the Estate first (from my experience) can lead to a more shallow and two-dimensional character. Why? Because the tendency is to create a character whose background is retrofitted to rationalize and justify why they were ennobled as that particular Power. (ie. the computer hacker who is the Power of Computers, the painfully shy girl who loves to read to the exclusion of anything else is the power of Libraries)
Or the abused child who grows up to be Affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark.. It begs the question of who wants to play an abused child and why? Is it just to rationalize why you’re affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark- or because it’s truly part of the character?
The London cabbie who is the Power of Coincidence is more interesting in my opinion, because he was somebody before he became a demi-god.
Now someone will fairly argue that Imperators might select some one to steward an Estate based upon their interests and predilictions. I’ll grant you that. I do maintain that it leans towards to a more contrived character, but no – not a guarantee; this is a generality, not a hard and fast rule.

The only note I will add to this is that, in my limited Nobilis experience thus far, I’ve had the most ‘problems of two-dimensionality’ with the characters whose backgrounds were designed around their (eventual) Estate. I love everyone’s characters, but them’s the facts.
The old Amber-ism of ‘make up the character you’ve always wanted to play’ works pretty well here. (Hell, in any game, come to that.)

“Still… not as scary…”

The creator of Nobilis, reinventing the ecosystem of the world’s oceans on Hitherby Dragons.

The ocean should be made of custard. On a purely practical level, it would be tastier and more nutritious than sea water. On a more idealistic level, it’s one of the few things that could entice me to take up a career as a sailor: a custard sea, with little gummi fish! (The fish would have to be gummi fish. Otherwise they’d drown. Normal fish can’t breathe custard! That’s a silly idea.)
Gummi fish wouldn’t be the only wonders of a custard sea. There’d be white chocolate reefs and a Bermuda’s Triangle made of deadly meringue. Would the sailors consume it or would it consume them? You’d never know. Not without going there!
Most of all, there’d be little candied fruits suspended in the custard. And you know what that would mean?
That’s right.
An end to scurvy IN OUR TIME.